Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hats, Milliners, and New Orleans (plus Aretha Franklin, Paris Hilton, and SJP)

Hats have been out of fashion since the late 1960s, when all of the traditional rules of couture and propriety were thrown out the proverbial window and replaced with a combination of anti-fashion and ready-to-wear that wasn't interested in following anyone's established dictates. Toppers have survived in some African-American churches and in Britain to some extent, but--even as creative accessories at the racetrack-- they are essentially worn as nods to the fashion rules of the earlier part of the century.Aretha Franklin's inaugural hat and these fanciful numbers worn by Paris Hilton and Sarah Jessica Parker are examples of hats making their way into the fashion scene this year, but I'm not expecting them to pick up any time soon. We're still too focused on bags and shoes as our accessories du jour, and they're easier to pull off with our current (very casual) hairstyles.

Millinery is, therefore, an all-but-lost art, which makes it exciting to find the rare example of a skilled milliner who designs and produces her own hats and maintains her own shop as well! New Orleans' French Quarter boasts Fleur de Paris, a custom millinery shop that also does couture and ready-to-wear (although the shop is mainly hats). I had a chance to chat a bit with milliner Kimberly Benn about her pieces, which she makes in a variety of materials (felt, straw, etc.), blocks to size, and embellishes, either to the customer's taste or to be purchased off the rack. Hats are worn for Mardi Gras balls, high school Homecoming courts, and other formal events in New Orleans, so she has more of a clientèle than she might in a location like Washington. Here are a few of her pieces that I particularly like:
White Rider with Black and White Trim
Brown 5-inch with Brown and White Trim (beautiful on)
Orange, Rust, and Gold Cocktail Hat
There are many more on the site, which I encourage you to explore. Wish I could have gotten one!

While I think this kind of millinery is classic and beautiful, and I wish more people were brave (and wealthy) enough to wear it, it's not fashionable. Her designs don't change much, not because of a lack of creativity, but because they're not dependent on fast-moving, broad-reaching changes in fashion trends. When hats were in fashion, designers created new pieces every season and styles in millinery changed as quickly as- or more quickly than- looks in clothing (much like shoes and handbags today).

What do you think- will hats ever become fashionable again? When and where will we wear them? Do their appearances on celebrities mark a change in accessory focus or merely a creative vintage look?

Tune in soon for news on the Marymount University Portfolio in Motion Show with guest designer Peter Som (starting tomorrow)!

Images of hats and sign from front window display of Fleur de Paris, taken with permission by Whitney Robertson. Ad for Stewart and Co. Paris Millinery from the New York Times, 1924.

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All photographs by W. Robertson licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


  1. Paris hilton have an incoming business in Philippines,I guess its all about dress shirts.

  2. That hat is really great how about feather hat?

    Laby[men suit]


Creative Commons License
This work by W. Robertson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.